Family ties run deep for restaurateur Josh Hanzlian
Josh Hanzlian has a deep family history when it comes to the food industry.
His local roots are deep, as well.
So it's no surprise that when he decided to open a restaurant, he would do so in Buffalo.
"I grew up in Buffalo, and the only reason I ever moved to New York was to get experience," said Hanzlian, who managed several restaurants in the Big Apple. "But I always wanted to come back to Buffalo."
In the spring, he plans to open Providence Social at a longtime restaurant site at Rhode Island and Chenango streets. Roseland operated there for generations and, in more recent years, it was home to Prime 490, which recently closed.
"It is an iconic building in its own right," he said. "It's easy to get nostalgic about the building."
After working in the industry locally and in New York City, he decided it was time to open his own place. He started a site search last year with the help of his mother, Martha "Mikey" Martin, widow of Buffalo Sabres great Rick Martin.
Hanzlian isn't playing off the Martin name and legacy, however.
The restaurant business is part of his DNA. His father runs Tin Pan Galley restaurant in Sackets Harbor and his grandfather and great-uncle run the well-known Hanzlian's Sausage.
That helps, but he said he is taking a risk with a new venture because he believes in Buffalo and is willing to invest his own money to make it happen. His investment serves as a snapshot of how some Gen Xers are choosing not to run away from Buffalo. Rather, they see the city and region offering ripe investment opportunities.
The easy thing for Hanzlian would have been to find a suburban location. And he admits that he checked out more than a few such sites but none caught his eye.
"All along I kept hearing things about Buffalo and the buzz that's going around about the West Side," he said.
He and his mom checked out the Prime 490 site last summer when it was listed. They looked at other places, too, but last fall they went back to the Prime 490 site. It also helped that the sale price had dropped. They ended up paying $275,000 for what is essentially a turnkey location. Prime 490 was open until midfall.
Besides the building, there's a private parking lot - a key amenity for any restaurant, especially one in Buffalo.
"In Buffalo, everyone drives," Hanzlian said. "It's not like New York City where people walk."¡
These days, he's busy getting everything ready.
He's tweaking the menu, which will feature small-plate items and taste-size portions, as well as full entries. The food will be fresh and trendy, including French Onion Dumpling, which he describes as a bowl of French onion soup inside a dumpling.
"It's going to be a unique menu but not that complicated. I want people to be comfortable with the new and different foods we offer," he said.
The interior of his restaurant will have a decidedly Buffalo feel, with lots of city and regional photos from days gone by. And yes, there will be a photo of a certain line that lives large in the Buffalo Sabres legacy - the French Connection, which featured his stepfather, Rene Robert and Gilbert Perreault.
It's not a game shot, mind you, but one of the trio getting off an airplane wearing classic 1970s suits.
Hanzlian said he expects to employ 25 full- and part-timers.
Providence Social has seating for 80, plus a patio that can accommodate 70.
While he's focused on the nitty-gritty details of opening the restaurant, his emotions these days are all over the board.
"Right now, I'm just as excited as I am nervous," he said.
Inquiring minds were curious why Trocaire College recently bought a 1.5-acre patch of vacant land on Freeman Road in Lancaster from restaurateur Russell Salvatore.
Salvatore, after all, has close ties to Trocaire: He helped underwrite its culinary and hospitality training program, and students work in his restaurant and hotel that adjoin the college's Lancaster campus.
The short answer is Trocaire is land-banking the property.
"In the short term, we have no specific plans," spokesman Kathy Popielski said.
Trocaire paid $600,000 for the land, according to the Erie County Clerk's office.
"It is really just for a future investment," Popielski said.
"The deal was done just as a matter of timing."